In 1919, one of the most vicious lynchings in the history of the South took place right in downtown Ellisville [Mississippi]. John Hartfield, accused of assaulting a white woman, was pursued through the woods of three counties for ten days before he was caught. A committee of vigilantes announced they intended to hang Hartfield outside of the courthouse, and the state’s biggest newspaper, the Jackson Daily News, advertised the event in an eight-column front-page streamer of a headline. “John Hartfield Will Be Lynched by Ellisville Mob This Afternoon at 5 P.M.,” it read. “Negro Jerky and Sullen As Burning Hour Nears.” Other papers picked up the news, and correspondents made the journey to Ellisville for the event, including a writer named Hilton Butler, who recorded his memories for The New Republic.
Six thousand spectators congregated in a pasture near the town courthouse, many of them with picnic baskets. District Attorney T. Webber Wilson of Laurel, later elected to Congress, stood on the running board of a car and gave a speech to the mob.
When the hour reached 5:00 p.m., Hartfield, clad in nothing more than a pair of olive drab pants, was dropped from a sycamore – the same tree, according to locals, from which Robert Lowry had hanged three of Newton’s men. As Hartfield’s body twisted on the rope, men in the crowd began shooting at it, and the journalist Butler had to scramble down from another tree to escape the hail of fire. “Every time a bullet hit an arm, out it flopped like a semaphore,” Butler wrote. The writer estimated not less than two thousand bullets were fired into the body. “One of them finally clipped the rope. John’s body fell to the ground, a fire was built around it, and John was cremated.”
That night, as Butler strolled through the town of Laurel, he encountered a ghoulish exhibition on the sidewalk. A grinning man exhibited a quart jar filled with alcohol, in which bobbed a finger cut jaggedly from a Negro’s hand. “I got a finger, by God,” the man said. “And I got some photographs, too.” He was selling the pictures for twenty cents each.
”We ‘orter kill more of ‘em around here,” he said. “Teach ‘em a lesson. Only way I see to stop raping is to keep on lynching. I’m goner put this finger on exhibition in my store window tomorrow, boys, and I want you to drop around.”
Jenkins, Sally, and John Stauffer. “The Family Tree.” The State of Jones: The Small Southern County That Seceded from the Confederacy. Anchor Books, 2010. 303-4. Print.